There’s the music player, the device in your home or your pocket on which you listen to the album. And there’s the concert experience, where you have a couple of longnecks and get sweaty and dance with your friends to live musicians.

But wait a minute – now the musicians are using computers and music players to perform. What if that music player became part of the interaction at a live gig?

Richie Hawtin is going live with a new show via his Plastikman persona – great news to those of us who love his original work. Part of the new tour is an experiment with an iPhone app called SYNK, developed under Richie’s watchful eye with Minus’ Bryan McDade and TouchOSC developer RJ Fischer ( I tried to get more details on how the app will work, but apparently they’re trying to keep some of it under wraps until the first show in Mannheim this weekend. (If you are making the Mannheim show, I’d love to get your coverage – it looks like the East Coast of the US didn’t make the cut.)

We do know a little, though, and that already raises questions – and likely some skepticism, too, I imagine – about how mobile devices could be integrated with performance. There’s a very jumpy “teaser” video, below, too:

Watching closely, I see

  • Numbers running behind the stage and on the iPhone, some pattern of rects on the iPhone
  • Visualist collective Derivative’s modular, visual-making software TouchDesigner
  • An Ableton Live set with an obscene number of effects (12!) sends, for reasons that are unclear to me
  • A Max for Live patch that uses the Live API (and is sending OSC via IP address, presumably to interface with the iPhone)

The application itself includes modules that allow the audience to reorganize word samples (a bit like playing with magnetic poetry), a live video stream of the performance from the inside out, visuals that appear on your iPhone/iPod touch that are synchronized with the onstage LED wall and music, and real-time performance information (apparently synchronous with handheld software that’s used for the performance itself).

The most interesting part of all of this is that it’s location-based: it’s designed only to work when you’re live at the show. Between shows, however, there is a mode that includes a self-contained audiovisual experience.

While part of the appeal to me of live performance is getting away from all my own technology and listening, it is encouraging to see creative experimentation, and mobile software that’s about more than just the artists promoting themselves.

More on the modules (including some special information passed along to CDM from the Plastikman crew):

The official description:

Based upon earlier “Lodgikal Nonsense” and “Vokx” voice tracks, this state invites the audience to re-organize the word samples using a user interface of 20 touch buttons. In this state the centre of performance control is moved from the stage and into the audience.

This state is accessible throughout the show and gives users a live video stream of an internal perspective of the performance.

This state explores the synkronicity of realtime-generated percussion patterns and their visual counterparts, integrating the stage LED wall and the built in displays on each SYNK activated iPhone/iPod Touch.

This state is active during the entire show with realtime performance information. At specific moments an extended Konsole state becomes activated, allowing further insight into the realtime programming of the performance’s drum and percussive elements, while also providing visual feedback of musical and effect parameters. A simplified remote Konsole is available to all SYNK users worldwide and will be activated during all Plastikman Live performances.

Participants should connect to the Plastikman Wi-Fi network at each performance and will be notified of the activation of the different states by their iPhone/iPod Touch at specific moments during the show.

The SYNK experience will not be limited to viewers of the live show. In between the performances the SYNK application will be in sleeper mode and function as a Plastikman atmospheric location shifter. By using visualizations inspired by Derivative, combined with the iPhone’s built-in microphone and accelerometer, users are immersed in a Plastikman environment. For best results, please use headphones.

The “sleeper mode” confused a number of people, so I inquired further. Minus helped us out a bit.

Bryan McDade tells CDM:

“[Sleeper mode] is the visualization which takes place as the default interface into the app when there is not a functioning show. The app uses some visuals inspired by design from the people at Derivative and the microphone picks up audio and plays it back through the speaker while warping the audio with the use of the accelerometer. The audio function has been compared to RJDJ by others in the online community.”

Richie Hawtin adds:

The idea of the sleeper mode is to give users the feeling of bring immersed in their own personal Consumed type environment modulated by their movements and the ambient sounds around them.

Sounds great to me; I’d love to see apps beyond just RjDj that run with this idea. It’s such a great idea, in fact, that I wonder how performances could cater to multiple phone platforms, not just iPhone.

I’m excited to hear more about the tour and about the development of Synk, and I have to hope they add more dates or I find some way to cross paths. Stay tuned for more details.

The tour:

27.03. Time Warp – Mannheim, Germany
18.04. Coachella – Indio, USA
08.05. WeLoveArt – Paris, France
21.05. Dissonanze – Rome, Italy
29.05. Movement – Detroit, USA
18.06. Sonar – Barcelona, Spain
11.07. T in the Park – Balado, Scotland
06.08. Sonne, Mond & Sterne – Saalburg, Germany
07.08. AudioRiver – Plock, Poland
21.08. Lowlands – Biddinghuizen, Netherlands
10.09. Sunday Best presents Bestival – Isle of Wight, UK

SYNK @ iTunes

SYNK @ hexler